image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMore people are set to be allowed to meet outdoors in Scotland – although a return to the “rule of six” is not expected
Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland are expected to be eased slightly to allow more people to meet up outdoors.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will update MSPs about the state of the pandemic and lockdown at Holyrood.
On Monday, her deputy John Swinney said “the data is going in the right direction” and that ministers were “hopeful” that measures could be eased.
However the overall “stay at home” order is expected to remain in place for some weeks to come.
Mr Swinney said changes would have to be made in a “sustainable” manner so that transmission of the virus does not run out of control again.
At present, only two people from two households are allowed to socialise outdoors in Scotland.
This was due to increase to four people from two households from 15 March, but this is expected to be brought forward as a result of progress in suppressing new cases.
The move – dubbed “relatively minor but important” by Ms Sturgeon on Friday – may also see more young people allowed to participate in non-contact sports.
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionNicola Sturgeon will discuss plans with ministers on Tuesday morning, then announce them to MSPs in the afternoon
More pupils are expected to return to classrooms from next Monday, including remaining primary school years and some secondary students.
By late April, the government hopes to move back to a local “levels” system of regional restrictions across Scotland, albeit with tougher rules than before.
Ms Sturgeon will review the latest advice and data with her cabinet ministers on Tuesday morning, before announcing their decisions in the Holyrood chamber in the afternoon.
On Monday, Mr Swinney said there were “a lot of grounds for optimism” – but warned that changes would have to be made carefully.
He said: “The number of cases is falling, the test positivity rate is low, the vaccination programme is going well and the pressure on our hospitals, while still significant, is not as grave as it was earlier on.
“The first minister has been clear that we will try to relax lockdown as quickly as we possibly can do, but we have to do it in a sustainable manner.
“That means taking the appropriate steps in the appropriate sequence to make sure we don’t risk the virus running away from us again.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross welcomed the plans, saying the government had not “given enough hope” to people when setting out its path for easing lockdown.
The data in most of Scotland is looking increasingly hopeful. The Scottish government wants to ease restrictions cautiously and steadily, but the First Minister has indicated they could be eased earlier if safe to do so.
One important piece of data is the number of Covid cases relative to the size of the population – the rate per 100,000.
Under this measure, most of Scotland would now cross the threshold for Level 2 restrictions from 26 April.
However, much of the central belt still has numbers which point to Level 3, while Clackmannanshire still hasn’t quite reached this level.
Today’s announcement is expected to focus on relaxation of rules for meeting outdoors, but there is cause for growing optimism that other restrictions could be eased earlier than planned.
An announcement on this may come next week, so it is worth watching the figures to see if they continue to move the right way.
Ministers have stressed that their approach will be dictated by the latest data and scientific evidence about the pandemic.
On Friday, Ms Sturgeon said that the progress of the vaccination programme and declining number of people falling seriously ill “should give us all real encouragement that greater normality is firmly on the horizon”.
However she warned on Sunday that mass gatherings like those seen in Glasgow after Rangers were confirmed as the Scottish Premiership football champions “could delay exit from lockdown for everyone else”.
Mr Swinney reiterated this on Monday. He said: “We will be driven by the data. If the data suddenly – because of all of that commotion at the weekend – goes in the wrong direction, we will have difficult decisions to make. There are consequences that flow from these events.”